MINNEAPOLIS -- It seems hard to fathom, not six months after the Minnesota Vikings began training camp expecting a breakout season from their handpicked franchise quarterback. But here we are in early January 2017 and the Vikings' immediate future does not appear to have Teddy Bridgewater at the center of it.
It's the cruel reality of the NFL, where the gruesome and ubiquitous nature of injuries is often papered over with beige sayings such as "next man up," but Bridgewater's fateful step on Aug. 30 might have permanently changed his career trajectory. The Vikings sent a 2017 first-rounder and 2018 fourth-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford five days after Bridgewater dislocated his left knee and tore his ACL. They will head into 2017 with Bradford as their starter and Pat Shurmur -- Bradford's coordinator in both St. Louis and Philadelphia -- leading their offense.
For Bridgewater -- an incredibly popular and likable player with both teammates and coaches -- there are, at least for the moment, only well wishes for a smooth rehab.
"Right now, all I’m worried about is Teddy getting better," coach Mike Zimmer said last week. "He comes in here every single day, busts his rear end and I just want him to get better right now, and so we’ll worry about those things later.
"But Sam has done remarkable, the things he’s done this year with all the things that he’s had to do.”
Bridgewater is under contract at $2.18 million for the 2017 season, and the Vikings will have to make a decision on his fifth-year option in May. It seems likely they will exercise the option, even though it will check in north of $11 million, because it gives them another year to evaluate the 24-year-old's recovery. And even though Bradford's history with Shurmur gives him the inside track to being the Vikings' quarterback for the foreseeable future, Bridgewater has also shown a preference for the kinds of quick-timing throws that Shurmur favors in his offense. Bridgewater would not be incompatible with the Vikings' current offensive direction if he were to come back.
Bridgewater's health, though, remains an open question. Zimmer said last week the team had studied injuries similar to Bridgewater's but found few common characteristics because of the added complications from a dislocated knee.
"There’s no exact injury where they’re all the same," Zimmer said. "Talking about an ACL, there’s lots of those, but they’re all the same. There is really no exact. ... Some are with nerve damage, some are without nerve damage. There’s just so many variables with this particular injury. I do know this: Teddy is a guy that will do everything possible to get back as soon as he can possibly get back. And he would be a guy that I would never bet against."
At the moment, though, Bridgewater's future remains a gamble, especially given the possibility his rehab could stretch into training camp or beyond.
Shaun Hill, who turned 37 on Monday, will be a free agent in March. And the Vikings didn't get much of a look at Taylor Heinicke after he returned from a severed tendon in his foot. They could set out in pursuit of a backup quarterback rather than count on Bridgewater for that role. And they'll have to turn their attention to Bradford's future, with his contract set to expire after the 2017 season.
Should Bridgewater return from his injury to put himself back at the center of the Vikings' plans, he would also be the protagonist in quite the recovery story. The cold reality facing Bridgewater, though, is that while the team can believe in his determination and hope for his successful return, the Vikings aren't about to wait around for it.